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  • September 2009 : The towns of Ceuta and Melilla include a Muslim festival in the calendar

In September 2009, town councils in Ceuta and Melilla approved a proposal by Muslim religious representatives to add a Muslim festival to the calendar of public holidays: Eid al-Adha or Feast of Sacrifice is to be celebrated on 17 November. No non-Christian religious festival had been celebrated in Spain for over five centuries. This celebration marks a recognition of the socio-religious reality of these two towns, where more than half the population is of Muslim faith. It will also help anchor religious diversity in people’s daily lives.

  • 30 August 2009 : The Spanish government is preparing a new law on religious freedom

The Spanish government plans to reform the Ley Orgánica de Libertad Religiosa (Organic Law on Freedom of Religion) by the end of the current parliament in 2012. In December 2008, the Council of Ministers approved it in principle, included within a larger piece of legislation on human rights, the Plan de Derechos Humanos. The announcement of this project has provoked reactions from both the Spanish Catholic hierarchy and those in favour of reinforcing secularity and the non-confessional state. The former considered that "when one claims to make all religions equal, as if they all had the same meaning and same weight historically and socially in the construction of a people, this could obviously only be an egalitarian, falsely democratic, lie". According to them, true respect for religious freedom should allow "the religious faith not to be reduced simply to freedom for all subjective beliefs, but to permeate all aspects of life". (La Razón, 30 August 2009, "La nueva Ley de Libertad Religiosa va dirigida contra los cristianos").
In turn, lay associations (Propuesta de Europa Laica para una proposición de Ley Orgánica de Libertad Religiosa) require of the government that the new legislation responds "to the social and political reality of a democratic and secular state", while the current law grants "countless privileges to the Spanish Catholic Church, which in fact convert the state into a confessional state", discrediting and discriminating against the other convictions.

  • 15 July 2009 : Law on places of worship in Catalonia

On 15 July 2009 the Parliament of Catalonia approved a law on places of worship (Ley de los centros de culto de Cataluña, 16/2009, 22 julio). It aims to fill the existing legal vacuum in this area and the resulting disparity of criteria for obtaining authorisations among the various municipalities. The law "aims to facilitate exercising freedom of worship, provide assistance to mayors in their efforts to facilitate exercising this right and ensure the hygiene and dignity of places of worship. It also aims to avoid any inconvenience being caused to third parties. The law itself will avoid creating problems for places of worship already in operation and which are not causing any problems." Among the measures planned are the obligation for municipalities to provide suitable land and the establishment of a municipal licence to open and use places of worship which will ensure compliance with hygiene and security requirements.
This law, a pioneer in the matter in Spain, has been greeted with optimism by the different religious groups who, in general, have highlighted its positive aspects. Some criticisms have, however, been expressed. One can mention in particular the implications of the retroactive nature of the law, the lack of precision about the new technical requirements that places of worship must comply with and the possibility of misuse or abuse of the law by municipalities tainted by religious intolerance, prejudice or racist attitudes. Some groups also question the constitutionality of a law that could weaken the scope of article 16-1 of the Spanish Constitution: "Freedom of ideology, religion and faith for individuals and communities is guaranteed without other limitations than those necessary to maintain public order protected by the law."

  • January 2009 : Citizenship and Human Rights Education

The Chamber for Contentious Proceedings at the Supreme Court decided in late January 2009 by 22 votes to 7 that there could be no right of "conscientious objection" to the teaching of ciudadanía (citizenship), arguing that it did not go against the right of parents allowing their children to receive the religious and moral education they desired. This decision confirms the compulsory nature of this education and enables a sole principle to be used to counter the hundreds of judgements already pronounced and about to be pronounced by the courts of autonomous communities, which sometimes adopted divergent attitudes.
Citizens in favour of the right of objection have announced their intention to file an appeal with the Constitutional Court to end the compulsory nature of this education. The aspects of the programme to which most objections are raised, are:
 reluctance about the transmission of common moral values, as morality should be imparted solely by families;
 refusal to see declarations of human rights qualified as universal ethical references;
 refusal of certain parts of the programme dedicated to intolerance, which may possibly not be agreed by everyone: "identifying factors of cultural and religious diversity; awareness of and respect for customs, moral values and lifestyles different from one’s own; rejecting attitudes of intolerance and exclusion; fighting social prejudice, racism, xenophobia, antisemitism, sexism and homophobia."
 finally, the explicit intention of this discipline to enable each person to develop his/her analytical skills and autonomy seems for its opponents likely to lead to ethical relativism.

  • January 2009 : Towards the abolition of public subsidies to institutions practising single-sex education

Several autonomous communities (Andalusia, Galicia, Catalonia) have expressed their intention to terminate existing partnership contracts with colleges that maintain a separation between girls and boys, most of which are linked to the Opus Dei. In January 2009, the latter were estimated at around sixty in the whole of Spain.
The education law known as Ley Organica de Educación had opened up the legal possibility of removing subsidies from this type of establishment, by stating the need not to discriminate by gender and affirming in additional provision n°25 that "mixed colleges would be given priority attention". The law, reflecting the official position of the Ministry of Education, empowers each autonomous community with the ability to decide on this matter, which was confirmed by the Supreme Court in 2008.

D 30 September 2009    AFernando Bravo López

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